Combining social responsibility with mid-career leadership development, the Red Thread Fellowship Programme offers a new approach to professional training that connects organisations with the community around them - and most interesting of all, it's free.
The Red Thread Fellowship programme offers an innovative development methodology that combines an ILM accredited leadership development programme with regular community volunteering. It takes middle-management professionals who have people and budgetary responsibility, and who aspire to senior positions, and supports them in leadership skill development. The goal is to produce a generation of business leaders who are able to deliver sustainable business success while being acutely tuned to the needs of their local community and the positive impact that businesses can have on the world around them.
Over twelve months, delegates participate in an introductory workshop and five additional modules that cover role modelling, vision setting, challenging the norm, enabling others and encouraging the heart, all while committing an hour a week to help their chosen charity become more sustainable.
The programme started in Milton Keynes in 2016 and is now about to launch its fourth cohort there, its second in Oxford and its first in Cambridge. Local charities that have already registered to work with Cambridge Fellows include Cyrenians, Disability Cambridgeshire, Form the Future, Jimmy's, Lifecraft, Maggies, Papworth Trust, Turtle Dove and the YMCA.
So how does the initiative make a positive impact on the community?
First, local people and employers benefit from free, top-class training, with instruction accredited by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM). But, more importantly, the programme also gives participants the opportunity to apply what they have learned. The result is a partnership that not only benefits charities, but also puts classroom teaching into real-life contexts.
Second, local charities benefit from the real, long-term commitment of the Fellows. This is quite different from the usual ‘work experience’ scenario, with charities having to find tasks for well-meaning volunteers. Instead, Fellows can contribute high quality work that benefits local people, including some of the most disadvantaged groups in our community. Local charities also benefit financially; each Fellow is asked to commit to raising £500 for their chosen charity over the course of the year.
Finally, the Fellowship plays a major part in building connections between business people and their community – in fact, Fellows are now frequently choosing to extend their partnership with their local charity beyond their official year of commitment.
Donna McKnight (Centre Manager for Jennings Oxford) has just completed her Fellowship journey with The Red Thread and has shared her thoughts on the programme to encourage those considering signing up.
The initial thought of going on a leadership course was a little scary if I’m honest, however the Fellowship programme is very ‘value based’ so felt completely the right course for me to go on. I was also keen to work with a local charity, so it was a win win! I’ve enjoyed each workshop and came away feeling more confident each time. What’s so lovely is that you not only learn new skills from the fellowship course but from listening to everyone else’s experiences in the group. Sharing is a great way to become better leaders! Every workshop had a different topic and each time I came away with new ideas on how to deal with different situations. I kept a list of ‘golden nuggets’ which I then took back to share with my team. Working with a local charity gave me the chance to experience something completely new which came with new challenges, so I was learning all the time.
And, meanwhile, a Milton Keynes charity had these words to say about the support that they received through the programme:
Working with the fellowship programme has provided a new dynamic to our organisation. The expertise and support from the Fellows has helped us to reflect on our position and has been thought provoking about where we could be in the future. If you are looking to expand your horizons and improve your skills The Red Thread Fellowship is for you. The benefit of your experience may also be a huge asset to the organisations you are supporting.
This hugely valuable leadership development opportunity is available to any business in the Cambridge area and we would encourage all CW members to consider whether it is suitable for themselves, their colleagues or wider professional networks.